Simon Jackson
Legal Advisor to Torah Mitzion


We ended our last column by concluding that the majority of Halachic codifiers permit tza’ar ba’alei haim for monetary gain, albeit that they all recoil morally from benefiting in this manner.

What is the scope of the permit of “financial gain”? Can it justify the practice of force-feeding geese – all in the name of creating luxuries and gastronomic delicacies for human beings? Can the financial benefits obtained justify the suffering caused to animals in the course of bull or cock fights, or hunting as a sport?

It is very clear that the Halacha’s concession of allowing suffering to animals for financial gain does not imply any permit to derive benefit from the suffering per se. Bull fights, cock fights and similar shows and tournaments are therefore clearly forbidden by Halacha. Moreover, all authorities agree that hunting as a sport is forbidden, even though the organizers of the fight undoubtedly profit from their enterprise.

From this perspective, the Supreme Court ruling in Let the Animals Live v. Chamat Gader Recreation Enterprises [1] which outlawed battles between man and alligator at the northern town of Chamat Gader, accorded perfectly with the principles of Jewish Law, and these principles were indeed cited extensively in the judgment.

The permit applies only where the suffering caused is merely a means for obtaining a product or a benefit, and even then, only where there is no possibility of obtaining these without causing the suffering. In other words, in the same manner as one may not obtain sadistic benefit from causing suffering to animals, so too it is forbidden to market such benefit, and even if hundreds of households rely on this benefit for their livelihood, such invalid means of earning a living should cease immediately.

However, in the case of force-feeding geese, the situation is different: those involved in the industry are not interested in causing suffering to the geese, merely in their livers, and were alternative means available to achieve this purpose they would certainly adopt it!

Especially instructive in this regard is a response by Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igrot Moshe, Even Haezer IV:92), one of the greatest Poskim of the last generation, which deals expressly with a similar situation – the raising of calves for veal. This practice is mentioned several times in the Noah[2] judgment. Calf meat (veal), like goose liver, is a culinary delicacy. In order to get high quality veal, calves are raised under special conditions. The calves are kept in narrow stalls, which do not allow them room to move. They are also fed special food that does not contain iron. This is intended to make the meat as light colored as possible. This is done despite the fact that the calves need iron and, as a result of the lack of this necessary dietary element, they become anemic.

Rav Feinstein does, indeed, prohibit the raising of calves for veal. He rules that one who engages in this practice transgresses the prohibition of tza’ar ba’alei haim[3]. However, from his reasoning, it is doubtful whether he would have reached the same conclusion with respect to the force-feeding of geese. On the contrary, it is logical to assume that Rav Feinstein would permit the practice, because his reasoning to forbid the raising of calves for veal is that the latter does not improve the meat, but merely changes its color to white, which thus appears more impressive than it actually is. In his opinion, the “gain” obtained by those who raise the calves from improving the appearance of the meat (and which in effect deceives purchasers of the meat) does not constitute a benefit which justifies the infliction of suffering on animals. The situation is very different in the case of forcefeeding geese, which does in fact cause the liver to improve.

It should also be noted that Rav Feinstein emphasizes in his responsum that tza’ar ba’alei haim is permitted “in cases where people generally allow this,” i.e. specifically where a commonly accepted benefit results. It would follow, therefore, that if it were not accepted practice to force-feed geese, the practice would be forbidden, but since the industry exists – darkan be’kach (“it is generally allowed”) – there is no Halachic basis to stop its practice, save where alternative means exist to obtain the same result without causing tza’ar ba’alei haim or where such suffering can be minimized.

From the above it follows that, had the Supreme Court taken into consideration the principles of Jewish Law over the ages as to the appropriate balance between human needs and animal welfare, it may well have reached a different conclusion from one which outlawed the practice of force-feeding geese.

Hunting for Sport in the Modern State of Israel

In Israel, the issue of hunting for sport is regulated in the Wildlife Protection Law, 5715 (1955).

This law authorizes the Minister of the Environment to restrict the hunting of wild animals, to issue hunting permits and to appoint inspectors to enforce the law. It prohibits trading, possessing or transporting protected species without a permit. It requires a hunting license for game hunting (hare, wild boar, partridge and some duck species) or for the extermination of pests, and prohibits the hunting of protected species, except by special permit and for specific purposes listed in the law.

However, while the law does restrict the hunting season and hunting areas, and also prohibits certain methods of hunting (traps, explosives, poisoning), hunting of mammals per se is thus still permitted in Israel!

Final Column: Knesset attempts to change the law on hunting for sport!


[1] Cited extensively in our first column on this subject – see Issue No. 58 of this publication. To read an English translation of this judgment, see – English Court decisions – LCA 1684/96.

[2] Noah – The Israeli Federation of Animal Protection Organizations; discussed at length in Issue No. 58 of this publication. To read an English translation of this judgment, see – English Court decisions – HCJ 9232/01.

[3]It follows that scientific experiments upon laboratory animals during the course of medical research designed to yield information that might lead to cure of disease will only be sanctioned by Jewish law provided alternative means of obtaining the same information are unavailable (e.g. tissue culture studies). Where alternative means do exist, animal experimentation might be considered to fall under the category of unnecessary cruelty to animals and be prohibited.